“What was it that I really wanted? That was when I recognized that my subject was the natural history of the summer night. But there was no such subject, so I stopped.”
“Then I quickly remembered the significance of sitting still and waiting, for stories or whatever. Sooner or later everything seems to be part of the same puzzle.”
-Fredrik Sjoberg, The Art Of Flight
What’s the true subject matter of this blog? What does it hope to be about? What is it that I want from it (and want you to take from it)? I reflected on these questions recently upon rereading parts of entomologist Fredrik Sjoberg’s The Art Of Flight. In one passage (see epigraph above) he describes his turn towards entomology, but not before drifting in half-reverie, as he often does, towards other possible career trajectories, “pondering deeply all the while.” No matter how impractical the idea seems—“the natural history of the summer night” isn’t exactly a viable subject for a career—Sjoberg has the time to consider the gamut of its implications for his life. Anyway, it was upon reading this passage that I thought about my blog.
I think it’s about music, making music, and listening to music. It’s about music as a scene in which to explore how ideas come to be. It’s about attention and concentration as they manifest themselves through music. And it’s about invention and variations on a themes related to musical action. I admit I often dance around these themes—talking about them indirectly, or perpetually delaying the onset of the main event. There are analytical pieces about playing and composing, reviews, reproductions of art depicting musicians, quotations from books and articles, favorite tracks, fictional ventrilo-dialogues, profiles of unusually interesting musicians, links to my academic articles, and even poems about music. But really, these posts are just elaborate ways to stay busy while I’m busy making music.
Which brings me to a frustration. In dancing around the main event of making music, the blog perpetually comes up short—staying busy, yes, but essentially staying out of my way. It comes at music before or after I’ve made or listened to it, but never during. (In the blog’s defense: How can it do otherwise?) In that sense the blog is based on memory as it tries to distill and compress what could happen or has already happened. It theorizes in lieu of sounding. It speculates about meaning instead of dwelling in it. It looks for connections to the extra-musical picture even though making music is always smaller picture and resolutely in the moment. It works with text instead of sounds. Even if writing about music is not quite analogous to dancing about architecture, it’s certainly a different way of knowing from making music. If music, as the poet Wallace Stevens once said, is feeling, not sound, maybe writing about music is the same thing, only once removed from sound’s stomping ground.
In light of these limitations—and keeping in mind Sjoberg’s idea that “sooner or later everything seems to be part of the same puzzle”—the blog is most useful to me and possibly you as an amplifier of my musical work. What I mean is that everything amplifies everything else. For example, I’ll often begin writing by thinking about what I’ve been doing music-wise—what’s working, what’s not, what I hope to do next. (I like lists and list-making.) Writing about the craft of playing or composing or listening is reflexive and feeds back into the craft, back into the doing, back into the action. Writing is asking yourself to notice something over and over again until it begins to reveal its subtleties to you. It’s a Noticing Game. The reward for your persistence is a changed perspective on what you do. Like a microphone placed in front of an amplifier, you become your own feedback instrument, making unexpectedly new sounds out of a single tone.